The Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling ('the Gonski Review') is a
watershed document which represents the most comprehensive review of Australian
schools in two generations.
The Australian Education Bill 2012 forms part of the Government’s
response to the Gonski Review. Largely aspirational, the Bill is very light on
detail, and is specifically stated to create no legally enforceable
obligations. While largely supporting the aspirations contained in the Bill and
expressed in the preamble, the Australian Greens consider they are meaningless
without a firm, detailed agreement with the States and Territories for
increased school funding.
The Australian Greens believe that the recommendations arising from the
Gonski Review represent the best opportunity in decades to fix our school
system to ensure that every Australian child can obtain a high quality
education, irrespective of their background or where they live, and thus have
the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
The Gonski Review squarely sets out the benefits of a high quality
schooling system for a nation:
High-quality schooling fosters the development of creative,
informed and resilient citizens who are able to participate fully in a dynamic
and globalised world. It also leads to many benefits for individuals and
society, including higher levels of employment and earnings, and better health,
longevity, tolerance and social cohesion.
However, marshalling extensive evidence from Australia and overseas, the
Gonski Review clearly identifies the areas in which Australia’s schooling
regime is failing, highlighting our declining levels of achievement
internationally, particularly in reading and scientific literacy and
mathematical literacy, and the pronounced inequity which is a characteristic of
Famously, in relation to the latter feature, the Gonski panel defined
equity in schooling as 'ensuring that differences in educational outcomes are
not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions'.
Shamefully, Australia performs poorly when it comes to measures of equity,
meaning that the link between student background and educational outcomes is
significantly more pronounced in Australia than in other high-performing OECD
Central to the panel’s definition of equity is the belief that the
underlying talents and abilities of students that enable them to succeed in
schooling are not distributed differently among children from different
socioeconomic status, ethnic or language backgrounds, or according to where
they live or go to school. The Review cites evidence that all children are
capable of learning and achieving at school in the right circumstances and with
the right support.
The Gonski Review provides extensive evidence of the inequitable state
of Australian schooling system, including the following:
- Australia has a strong concentration of advantaged students in
certain schools and a strong concentration of disadvantaged students in other
schools, predominantly government schools.
- There is a growing body of evidence that the composition of a
school’s population has a significant impact on the outcomes achieved by all
students at the school so that concentrations of disadvantage accentuate
- Schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students tend
to have less material and social resources, more behavioural problems, less
experienced teachers, lower student and family aspirations, less positive
relationships between teachers and students, less homework and a less rigorous
- Over 80 per cent of students who did not reach the level required
for proficiency to participate in society in reading and mathematics are in
government schools. (They represent about 20 per cent of government school students,
compared to about 8 per cent of Catholic students and 7 per cent of independent
There is a significant gap between Australia’s highest and lowest
performing students which is linked to educational disadvantage, particularly
among students from low socioeconomic and Indigenous backgrounds.
- In relation to reading literacy, the gap between students from
the highest and lowest economic, social and cultural status quartiles was
approximately three years of schooling.
- The average performance of Australian students from the lowest
quartile is significantly lower than the OECD average.
- Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately
represented in Australia’s 'underperforming tail' in the 2009 PISA assessment
of literacy domain.
According to 2010 NAPLAN data, Indigenous students living in very
remote areas for all domains and all year levels performed, on average,
below the mean score of Year 3 non-Indigenous metropolitan students.
- In the 2009 PISA assessments around one quarter of Australian 15
year-olds in the lowest economic, social and cultural status quartile performed
at a level which puts them at serious risk of not being able to adequately
participate in the workforce and contribute as productive citizens.
In order to respond to Australia’s declining international performance,
and the inequity in the system, the Gonski Review recommended a significant and
ongoing increase in school funding in Australia in the order of $5 billion per
year, which translates into $6.5 billion per year in today's terms.
It is widely acknowledged that Australia currently underinvests in
education. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Australia’s
spending on education is lower than the OECD average. Education Minister
Garrett acknowledged this himself in September 2012, when he said, 'Our spend
on education as a share of GDP has remained flat since 2001 and is currently
still lower than the OECD average, once the one-off spend is removed'.
There is an even more significant underspend when it comes to government
schools, which educate the great majority of children from high-needs and
disadvantaged backgrounds: 80% of those in the lowest SES quartile, 85% of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, 78% of those with a disability,
83% of students in remote areas and most students from a non-English speaking
Total government funding (Federal and State) per student in independent
schools increased by 82 per cent between 2002 and 2009, and the increase per
student in Catholic schools in the same period was 64 per cent. By contrast,
the increase for government schools was 48 per cent. 
Overall, the proportion of total government schools funding spent on
public schools in Australia, has decreased from 77.1 per cent in 2003 to 68.6
per cent in 2009. The OECD average is 85.8 per cent.
Over the same period of time, Australia's educational performance has
declined, both at the highest and lowest ends of educational advantage.
More than a year after the Gonski Review was released, the Australian
Greens are alarmed that the Australian Education Bill 2012 contains no detail
regarding the amount of funding to be provided for its implementation, nor how
it is to be allocated. Details of the contributions from the States and
Territories are also missing, as is any overall guide to its implementation.
The situation is critical, particularly for those students in government
schools where disadvantage is concentrated.
The Gonski Review itself has stressed the need for urgent reform,
The additional investment needed to implement a schooling
resource standard is necessary because, without it, the high cost of poor
educational outcomes will become an even greater drag on Australia’s social and
economic development in the future. The need for the additional expenditure
and the application of what those funds can do is urgent. Australia will only
slip further behind unless, as a nation, we act and act now.
It is essential that funding arrangements be finalised and legislated
for, as a matter of urgency, if the concerns raised by Gonski are to be
addressed and the risk of further decline averted.
In light of previous indications from the Government that any increased
investment into Australia’s schooling system, as recommended in the Gonski
Review, will be introduced over a lengthy period of years, the Australian
Greens call for the Bill to be amended to ensure that the most disadvantaged
government schools will be prioritised for any additional Commonwealth funding
during the implementation of the national plan.
The Australian Greens recommend that the Australian Education Bill 2012
be amended so that the most disadvantaged government schools will be prioritised
for any additional Commonwealth funding during the implementation of the
Senator Penny Wright
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